About the Book
Freshly graduated from Yale in 1935, Henry J. Kapler parlays his talent, determination and creative energy into a burgeoning art career in New York under the wing of artists such as Edward Hopper and Reginald Marsh. The young artist first gains notoriety when his depiction of a symbolic interracial handshake between ballplayers is attacked by a knife-wielding assailant at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington.
Yet even as his art star rises, his personal life turns precarious – and perilous – when his love for Fiona, a young WPA muralist, collides with his growing attraction to the exquisitely beautiful Alice, an ex-chorus girl who becomes his model and muse. Alice is the girlfriend of Fiona’s cousin, Jake Powell, the hotheaded, hard-drinking outfielder for the New York Yankees whose jealousy explodes into abuse and rage, endangering the lives of all three.
While Henry wrestles with his complicated love life, he also struggles mightily to reconcile his pacifism with the rabid patriotism of his Jewish-Russian émigré father. As war draws near, Henry faces two difficult choices, one of which could cost him his life.
Artist, Soldier, Lover, Muse transports the reader to pre-war New York City, into the creative mind of the artist, and into the lives of major figures from the worlds of art, sports and politics.
Format: ebook (300 pages) Publisher: Apple Ridge Fine Arts
Publication date: 1st August 2020 Genre: Historical Fiction
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Way back while this book was still languishing in my review pile, Arthur explained in a guest post the challenge of capturing in words the inspiration that drives the creative process of an artist. One of the things he said was, “The paintings portrayed in the novelist’s narrative should be equally accessible in the reader’s mind, whether the artwork has an existence in the real world or solely in the writer’s imagination.”
Artist, Soldier, Lover, Muse certainly transports the reader to the art world of New York in the 1930s with appearances by real life luminaries such as Edward Hopper (the subject of Christine Dwyer Hickey’s award-winning The Narrow Land) as well as other artists who were previously unknown to me like Edward Laning, Mary Fife Laning and Reginald Marsh. The novel’s main character, Henry J Kapler, is a figment of the author’s imagination but, as he explains in the Afterword, is inspired by the life and career of artist Harold J. Rabinovitz. Similarly, the paintings by Henry which the reader witnesses him labouring to produce are a mixture of fictional and actual works by Rabinovitz, such as Eventide.
The book combines the author’s passion for Depression era art with that for baseball so there are also appearances by real life players of that sport, including Joe D’Maggio, Babe Ruth and Ernest ‘Bunny’ Taliaferro. The Gastonia incident, which gives rise to Henry’s breakthrough painting in the book and involved Taliaferro, is also based on historical fact. There are even walk-on parts for musicians Ella Fitzgerald and Art Tatum.
The subject matter of Henry’s paintings gives the author the opportunity to explore issues of racism and discrimination in 1930s America. No more so than when Henry’s tutor, Yasuo Kuniyoshi (another real life figure in the New York art scene) becomes the recipient of growing anti-Japanese sentiment as World War 2 approaches. “Pretty ridiculous…this irrational fear of immigrants…in a country built by immigrants.” Quite.
Artist, Soldier, Lover, Muse is an enjoyable lesson in American art history but also the engaging story of a young man attempting to pursue his passion for art whilst at the same time navigating the ups and downs of relationships and family expectations.
My thanks to the author for my digital copy of his book and for his patience in waiting for it to reach the top of my review pile. You can read an extract from Arthur’s latest book, The Caroline Paintings, here.
In three words: Engaging, fascinating, well-researched
About the Author
Arthur D. Hittner is the author of the art-related historical novels, The Caroline Paintings and Artist, Soldier, Lover, Muse.
He is also the author of Honus Wagner: The Life of Baseball’s Flying Dutchman (McFarland Publishing, 1996), recipient of the Seymour Medal awarded by the Society for American Baseball Research for the best work of baseball biography or history published during the prior year. He has also written or co-written several art catalogues, a biography and catalogue raisonné on the artist Harold J. Rabinovitz, and articles on American art and artists for national publications including Fine Art Connoisseur, Antiques & Fine Art and Maine Antique Digest.
A retired attorney, Arthur Hittner has served as a trustee of Danforth Art in Framingham, Massachusetts and the Tucson Museum of Art. He was also a co-owner of the Lowell Spinners, a minor league professional baseball team affiliated with the Boston Red Sox. Married with two children and three grandchildren, Hittner currently divides his time between Oro Valley, Arizona and Natick, Massachusetts. He is a graduate of Dartmouth College and Harvard Law School.